By Wayne Parry

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Here's how bad things have gotten for Atlantic City's 11 casinos: Even a revenue decline of nearly 10% looks pretty good right now.

That's how much less the casinos won from gamblers in October compared with a year ago.

Though still high, the 9.9% decline actually represents progress when compared with the 15.1% plunge revenue took in September -- the biggest one-month decline in the 30-year history of casino gambling in Atlantic City.

"I truly don't think we've seen the worst yet," said J. Carlos Tolosa, Eastern Division president of Harrah's Entertainment ( HET), which owns four casinos here.

The company has already laid off several hundred workers this year and may have to let even more go if things don't improve, he said.

The casinos must deal with stiff competition from out-of-state slots parlors, which are stealing Atlantic City's most reliable customers, and the worsening economy, which is leaving the remaining ones less money to gamble with.

For the month, casinos won $346.3 million. Slots revenue was $235.9 million, down 12.7%, while table games revenue was $110.3 million, down 3.3%.

"These are dismal numbers," Tolosa said.

Eight of the city's 11 casinos posted double-digit declines, and only two showed an increase.

The worst performer was Trump ( TRMP) Marina Hotel Casino (down 29.3%), followed closely by Resorts Atlantic City (down 28.7%), and its sister property, the Atlantic City Hilton ( HLT) Casino Resort (down 21.4 percent).

Other notable declines were posted at the Showboat Casino Hotel (down 20.8%), owned by Harrah's; Bally's Atlantic City (down 18.5%), a Harrah's property; Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (down 17.3%), and the Tropicana Casino and Resort, whose parent company on Monday filed a plan to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Tropicana was down 16.2% for the month.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, a joint venture between Boyd Gaming ( BYD) and MGM Mirage ( MGM), which last week laid off 400 workers, was down 2.5%.

The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort was up 20.5%, helped by the opening of a second hotel tower, and luckier than usual play in its casino.

Harrah's Resort Atlantic City was the only other casino to post a revenue increase, up 63%. It, too, was helped by the opening of a second hotel tower earlier this year.

Another factor hurting October's revenue was a smoking ban that took effect Oct. 15. Although it was be put on hold for at least a year on Nov. 16, the ban has already done its damage at some casinos.

Tolosa said slot revenue at Harrah's four Atlantic City casinos was down by 12 percent for the first 15 days of October. But once the ban took effect, slots numbers fell 20 percent in the final two weeks of the month.

A similar effect was seen at the three casinos run by Trump Entertainment Resorts, company CEO Mark Juliano said.

He said the opening of the Chairman Tower at the Taj Mahal in late September started paying off big in October.

"The penthouse suites and the suites in the Chairman Tower enable us to reach out to a higher-end table player, and they are coming," he said.

For the year so far, the casinos have won $3.9 billion, down 6.6% from the same period last year.

This year will be the second in a row that revenue has declined in Atlantic City, after 28 years of consecutive increases.
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